For the moment, the only sensible question is whether you wish to call Albany’s ethical sewer pipe half empty or half full.
Is this new gush of revolting detail about a state lawmaker’s behavior just that -- or does it mark a step on some hard-to-detect path to higher-minded backroom conduct?
Reading a state ethics panel’s 64-page report on Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) evokes the caricature of a sick old boss using his power over the careers of young staffers to gratify lecherous whims.
The “Eeeuuuw” factor is huge. Recordings and testimony show Lopez urging young female aides to dress sexy, asking them into his bed, demanding massages, laying hands on them. He gives them gifts and asks for late-night messages and meetings, as the report spells out. His sense of entitlement seems to go beyond what sometimes gets rationalized as old-school behavior.
Lopez, who refused to testify before the panel, still calls the claims against him “fallacious.”
Nothing changes, meanwhile, in the state’s day-to-day power scheme.
As special prosecutor, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan isn’t criminally charging Lopez, who last year lost his committee posts and county party chairmanship in this scandal.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics described a kind of passive-aggressive failure of the state Assembly leadership to follow up on the initial sex-harassment charges. Though the details make it sound all the more distressing, this failure has been acknowledged, in general terms, since last year.
So Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) survives in his office, and the question remains as before who would succeed him if and when he leaves, which of course will happen one day.
As before, the state Senate -- the scene of a rash of federal cases involving financial malfeasance -- remains under the joint control of the Republicans and a few breakaway Democrats. (Make that one fewer breakaway Democrat since Sen. Malcolm Smith was indicted).
Ironically, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – not incapable of pressuring legislators with whom he negotiates budgets and legislation – stands to take a political hit from their misdeeds, both alleged and admitted.
Farewell to the fanfare about a governor snapping his fingers and “changing the culture” in Albany. Even if you accept that some systemic change has been made, and believe future lawmakers will act more legally – if only for fear of being recorded -- the cast of Capitol characters remains more or less the same.
Naturally, the Lopez report prompted the customary wave of pious statements.
Common Cause called for a public vote on Silver’s continued leadership, saying his handling of harassment claims were “merely a coverup.”
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) publicly urged Lopez to quit his state position and end his run for a Council seat. She endorsed his primary opponent.
Republicans called for Silver to resign.
Cuomo called on Lopez to be ousted.
Silver said his mistake of making a confidential settlement with complainants rather than refer it to the Assembly ethics committee “will not be repeated.”
Donovan called Lopez’s actions “alarming.”
On and on went the high-minded declarations, across the news cycle, as they always do.